Do you remember teaching yourself to strike a paper match? Learning the right amount of pressure, the pinch on the hard chemicals then the snap and the deft finger lift away from the air that would be sucked into flame. Maybe a quick curve of the hand to shield it from the wind?
Each matchbook was from somewhere or someone. The cover told a story (and maybe a bonus handwritten one inside) and held the promises of the 20 cardboard sticks. Failure: bearing down too hard, scraping off the goods with no fire to show for it. Failure: giving in and using the matchbook back in a shameful foldover. Fire has nothing to do with riding the brake.
Before striking became muscle memory, you paid attention. You knew your finger was exactly where fire would soon break free, depending on your timing. You knew you could get burnt, or set the whole thing aflame.
You knew flinching killed everything.
I once sat at a firepit watching a woman start a campfire. She had a hard time getting it going. Kindling was damp and she grew frustrated. She wore the powder off of a few matches. Finally, though, she did it, it caught, but before she was sure the heat would catch the biggest logs she chucked the whole book in the pit. We heard it crack and sizzle, but it wasn’t thrilling at all. It felt like a precarious waste.
Not because the matches were gone–we weren’t in a survival situation, we didn’t need to conserve the firestarters, and even if that fire extinguished we weren’t at any risk. But after working so hard for the fire, wouldn’t you rather save the matches, or at least strike each one with your own hands and watch them burn? Why, if you had fire in your hands, would you throw the whole thing away?
I’ve done that so many times, in so many other ways. Matchbooks are open all around me. I’m begging myself not to flinch.